Much like the nature of the work you’ll be doing as a psychotherapist, there isn’t a single ‘text book’ route to qualifying as a therapist. Once you know which area you would like to work within, there’s more structure to the path you need to take but your initial route is relatively open. For this reason, it doesn’t matter if you decide to train as a psychotherapist when you’re 16 or 40. It’s valuable to gain as much experience and advice as possible before you decide which area you would like to work in. This will determine which qualification(s) you work towards and which governing organisation you need to be accredited by. In this post we look at psychotherapy as a career and provide introductory guidance on where to go to achieve qualified status.

What’s psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is a psychological method used to treat emotional problems and mental health issues which can range from passed issues, bereavement, unconscious thought processes, family problems, anger following broken relationships or struggling with a crisis or stresses caused in everyday life. It can help people suffering from emotional issues, mental health issues and behavioural issues. Examples of emotional issues could be a patient facing infertility or grief or someone experiencing chronic anger. Mental health problems include bipolar, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety. Finally, behavioural issues psychotherapy is used to treat include eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia and addiction.

Traditionally psychotherapy has been referred to as a talking therapy. Professional psychotherapists are trained to offer safe and calm environments in which their patients are able to express their feelings in order to help them to gain a deeper insight into the issues they’re facing and better understand themselves. All sessions are entirely confidential so that patients can talk and confide in their therapists, safe in the knowledge that what’s shared won’t go beyond the clinics walls.

One of the benefits of seeing a psychotherapist is that patients can talk about things they might not feel be able to discuss with anyone else. The therapist will help their patient find better ways to cope, or bring about changes in the way they think and behave in order to improve their mental and emotional wellbeing. During psychotherapy you explore, probe and express any emotional difficulties you might be having. This helps you to understand underlying emotional states that could be the root cause of mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

Psychotherapy sessions are always confidential and can be one-to-one, with a partner or other family members or in a group. Therapy can be short or long term: the number of sessions will depend on the patient, their therapist, the type of therapy and the depth and complexity of the issues they want to resolve. Therapy may last for two years or more, three months or less. It’s unusual for therapy to last for less than six sessions.

Careers in psychotherapy

Psychotherapy applies a number of different approaches to treatment depending on the theoretical model the therapists has adopted and been trained in. These therapies include but are not exclusive to:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies
  • humanistic and integrative psychotherapies
  • systemic therapies
  • hypo-psychotherapy
  • existential/spiritual therapy

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, which training route you decide to take will depend on your interests and individual circumstance: personal interests, any related experience you already have, what area of psychotherapy you would like to work in, where you live. Exactly how you begin your journey into psychotherapy is flexible and varies from person to person. The exact qualification and governing body you need to achieve will become clear once you have found out the type of patients you would like to work with.

It’s also an option to go down a longer-term academic route and study for a doctorate. If this is what you’d like to do, you’ll need to gain a broad range of experience and knowledge and there’s particular qualifications and experience you’ll need to gain before you can do so.

There are a number of UK governing organisations that offer training and qualifications in psychotherapy:

  • UKCP – United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy
  • BACP – British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
  • ACAT – Association for Cognitive Analytic Therapy
  • ACP – Association of Child Psychotherapists
  • BABCP – British Association for Bahavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies
  • BPC – British Psychoanalytic Council
  • …and more!

Once qualified, all practising therapists undergo supervision to guide them through difficult, complex cases and to ensure that they are not being personally affected by their work. Once trained as a supervisor they can be also required to aid fellow professionals for this reason. In order to remain accredited they’ll also attend regular CPD (Continuing Professional Development) events and undergo appraisal delivered by their governing organisation. Psychotherapists working for the NHS work to targets. The targets and hours of those working privately will depend on the individual practices.

Psychotherapists work with individuals on a one-to-one basis and with couples, families and groups of patients. They conduct a series of sessions with each patient – normally lasting around 50 minutes, once or multiple times per week. They assess and monitor their patient’s needs, build trust and explore their issues with them over a series of sessions. Relationships between psychotherapists can last for weeks, months or sometimes longer periods of two or three years. Psychotherapists then spend some time evaluating therapy outcomes and writing reports. As well as one-to-one sessions they can conduct group sessions for people undergoing therapy in a clinical setting elsewhere. They can also become involved in a training capacity for other professionals such as social workers, nurses and teachers, who are interested in learning more about psychotherapy methods.

Reasons to be a psychotherapist

Qualified psychotherapists provide safe, expert therapy to help with emotional, social or mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. It’s thought that 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems each year in the UK. If you’re interested in psychoanalysis, the human mind and emotions and have a desire to work with and help people facing these kinds of issues, it could be a great career for you.

Becoming a qualified and successful psychotherapist requires study and learning about a broad range of conditions and treatments, maintaining a calm and approachable manner, an enjoyment of work with people and strong networking skills in order to build up and maintain a patient base. It’s also important to think about your own motivations and whether they’re the right reasons for going into the field. Often people venture into psychotherapy so as to better understand the human condition and themselves, others are driven by empathy or are inspired by others. If money or a title is a motivating factor, it might be better to look elsewhere.

Depending on where you work, working hours vary but are typically Monday to Friday, with around 6 hours of hands on work. Flexible work patterns are offered by a lot of organisations. Particularly in private practices, psychotherapists work extended working days to spend time with patients who come before or after working hours. Self-employment and freelance work are also possible. However, building up a client base takes time and it can be difficult to achieve a full-time practice. The work is emotionally demanding and can be solitary but with training, experience and quality practice psychotherapy can be an extremely rewarding and fulfilling career.

What qualifications you need to be a psychotherapist

Psychotherapists can begin their journey as qualified, practising therapists at different stages. Some begin training following a Bachelor degree in Psychology, Sociology or other related degrees; others decide to explore this career option after gaining experience in professions such as nursing, occupational health, teaching, and other professions involving a significant level of care.

Although a masters degree is not a technical requirement, a specialised course will need to be taken to study your chosen therapy. It can take from 1-5 years depending on the choice and progress in achieving required number of hours of clinical practice.

For those have a Bachelors degree in a subject that isn’t related to psychology or an allied field, it is possible to take conversion into psychology Masters. That said, previous engagement and/or experience related to psychology is often valued equally to a degree, meaning that not everyone entering psychotherapy will require a university education. Research the governing organisations listed above and the types of training and qualifications they offer to gain a better idea of the type of psychotherapist you would like to be. Once you know this you’ll be able to decide which governing body you need to obtain membership and accreditation from and what you need to do to join.

Natalija’s Path to becoming a Psychotherapist

“My Bachelor’s degree is in Business Administration and I took conversion into psychology MSc followed by an MSc in clinical applications of psychology, this assisted me in gaining a place on the Doctorate in Existential Psychotherapy and Counseling program. Training in psychoanalytic therapy included 6 years of personal therapy, infant observation, lectures and discussions, attending personal development group, psychiatric placement and clinical work. CBT training included clinical work in addition to lectures; and systemic training included personal therapy and clinical work in addition to lectures. My training in hypnotherapy left me unsure about its ethics, which is why we’ve made a conscious choice not to offer it at Psytherapy. I am in regular supervision and attend regular CPD events to comply with requirements of UKCP, BABCP and AFT.”